As the summer months passed by and it became time to speculate about the College Football Playoff contenders, UCLA was one of the trendy picks to represent the Pac-12. With players like quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker Myles Jack and a program seeming to be budding under the leadership of head coach Jim Mora, why not the Bruins? UCLA has jumped out to a 3-0 start this season, but nobody really saw it coming this way. Next up is a Thursday night contest on the road against Arizona State, another top 25 team with a 3-0 record. The primetime match-up could be a battle of back-up quarterbacks with major Pac-12 South implications riding on the outcome.
UCLA needed its defense to bail out a sluggish offensive effort in a season opening game across the country against a Virginia team that may be better than initially expected. The following week the defense could do nothing to stop Memphis in Los Angeles, but the offense found enough. In week three UCLA’s special teams set up the Bruins with a backup quarterback to escape the state of Texas with a victory over the Texas Longhorns. Hundley went down in the game and it remains unknown if he will play Thursday night in an early, yet pivotal, game in the Pac-12 South Division. Mora has been keeping silent on his quarterback’s availability. If Hundley is not available, Jerry Neuheisel will get a chance to start for UCLA after helping to lead the team to a victory over Texas.
Arizona State will be without starting quarterback Taylor Kelly is definitely out for the game, so Arizona State head coach Todd Graham will not be playing mind games up until kickoff. Kelly suffered a foot injury against Colorado, which means the Sun Devils will ride with Mike Bercovici under center.
If UCLA is going to fulfill the expectations of being a legitimate playoff threat, this is a game the Bruins have to win. A loss not only puts a blemish in the loss column, but it also puts the Bruins behind in the Pac-12 South race. An Arizona State win would put the Sun Devils on top of the South with a 2-0 conference record, and Arizona State would own a head-to-head tiebreaker. Every division game, regardless of conference, is critical. With Arizona and USC appearing to be threats in the South and Utah proving to be no pushover, Thursday night’s battle of top 25 programs in Tempe could set the tone for the rest of the season in the South.
Arizona State and UCLA play Thursday night at 10:00 p.m. eastern.